Banned Books Week begins today…
From BannedBooksWeek.org: Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.
As a writer of young adult fiction that’s intended for an older teen audience, book censorship is an issue that hits close to home. Books are most often challenged by people and groups who, at their core, have the best of intentions: To protect children from explicit and/or difficult material. Still, censorship in any form is wrong. Parents have every right and responsibility to educate their children as they see fit, and to keep them from material they deem inappropriate. Librarians, teachers, religious organizations, and politicians should not.
Still, year after year, people and groups continue to challenge books, most often for the following reasons*:
1. The material is considered to be “sexually explicit.”
2. The material contains “offensive language.”
3. The material is “unsuited to any age group.”
It’s all pretty vague and subjective, isn’t it?
Most Challenged Books of 2012*:
Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey – Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie – Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher – Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.
Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson – Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group.
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini – Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
Looking for Alaska, by John Green – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwart – Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence.
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison – Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence.
And, a few Classics that have been challenged at one time or another*: The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Ryeby J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Ulysses by James Joyce, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and 1984 by George Orwell.
How can we stand up to book challengers?
1. By defending our right to intellectual freedom — the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. We can talk about the danger of restraining the availability of information in our free society.
2. We can voice the importance of the First Amendment and the power of literature.
3. We can support librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to who fight to keep “inappropriate” books in library and school collections.
4. We can continue to buy, borrow, loan, read, talk about, and recommend banned and challenged books. (Twenty Boy Summer and Speak and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hunger Games and The Grapes of Wrath and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian!)
Tell me: What’s your favorite banned book? And, how will you celebrate Banned Books Week?
*Statistics and lists borrowed from the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Books page. Please do visit the ALA’s site for more information.